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Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

(1925 - 1994)

by Yael Levine Katz


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A wealth of material about Shlomo Carlebach is contained in the various daily newspapers published in Israel, as well as in news magazines. Some of these papers, such as Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post, have archives arranged according to subject. The material from more recent years is searchable either by CD ROM database, in the case of the Post, or by conducting an online search, in the instance of Ha'aretz, for both the English and Hebrew editions, the English edition since September 1997 and the Hebrew from May 1994. A preliminary search of the CD ROM of the Post between the years 1990-1999 turned up tens of references to Shlomo.

I resolved to check out the information pertaining to Shlomo in The Jerusalem Report since its inception in September 1990. There exists a CD ROM of the first five years, though the first issue, that of September 1, 1990, is, for some reason, not included. This was supplemented with a database search of all issues until the end of May 2000.

The search results showed that Shlomo was the subject of several posthumous Report articles or features of differing lengths. In addition, he was mentioned in various contexts in other articles, essays and editorials both in his lifetime and following his death.

Yossi Klein Halevi paid tribute to Shlomo in "The Pied Piper of Judaism," published in the issue following his death. He offered general biographical details concerning Shlomo's life, and stressed his quality of ahavat Yisrael. He noted that Shlomo "sang wherever there were Jews, from American prisons to Indian ashrams," and concluded, "He taught an orphaned generation numbed by the Holocaust and assimilation how to return to joy."1

Shlomo's double-cassette album Sweetest Friends and The Gift of Shabbos, recorded not long before his death, was favorably reviewed by Yossi Klein Halevi. Sweetest Friends "contains many new songs, among them some of his finest work, and reminds one why Carlebach had no peers - and no successors." Of the two cassettes, The Gift of Shabbos was, in Klein's opinion, the more successful. On this cassette, Shlomo articulated that his deepest prayer was "that we fill the world with a new song." He concluded by asserting that this "album proves that no one in our generation did more than Shlomo Carlebach to reinvigorate Jewish music and sing that new song."2

Miriam Shaviv chronicled the dissemination of the Carlebach influence following his death in 1994, pointing out that "his following has skyrocketed to levels possibly equaling the height of his popularity, in the 50s and 60s." Friday night Carlebach-style prayer services were cropping up in the United States and in Israel, and books about Carlebach were being published.3 Shaviv also told of the legal dispute over his legacy, and the claims on the part of Neshama and Neila Carlebach for the rights to Shlomo's music and teachings.4

The fact that various synagogues have incorporated some of Shlomo's songs into their liturgy was noted in several additional instances.

In a cover story feature, the plight of Jewish singles was recorded and some of the existing social outlets were delineated, amongst them the Friday night services at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, a haven for singles. "The program consists of almost no formal praying, just beautifully sung Shabbat hymns. The female cantor, with a warm vibrant voice and a tallit over her shoulders, holds her hands aloft à la Tevye the Milkman; her accompanyist is at the keyboard of an electric piano; the tunes are vintage Shlomo Carlebach." The writer went on to parenthetically state that Carlebach had his own synagogue not far away, which "has its own lively Jewish singles scene. "5

In October 1998 the Saatchi Synagogue opened in London in honor of Nathan and Daisy Saatchi, who emigrated from Iraq in the 1950's. The shul conducted traditional services, though it was not affiliated with the Orthodox United Synagogue, and drew many singles. The writer outlined its style of prayer. "Services don't run for more than two hours; siddurs have English transliteration; and there's lots of singing and dancing, Shlomo Carlebach style." While this type of Orthodox congregation may be found both in Israel and in the United States, "it is an innovation in far more staid Britain."6

In an article on Orthodox Jewish music performers, the lion's share of which was devoted to Avraham Fried, Calev Ben-David stated that "Jewish spiritual music does indeed draw some fans among non-Orthodox-Jews," citing the case of Shlomo Carlebach whose hits appealed to the general Jewish audience as well. Avraham Fried, he said, dreamt of the day when his music would be accepted among non-Jews as well, who would then be hearing values about peace, love and redemption directly "from the source."7

An article on Reva L'Sheva made note of Shlomo's crucial impact on the band. The group's music was, as depicted, fused with blues, country and "Carlebach's Jewish spirituals, influenced by the Grateful Dead and set to an Afro-ethnic beat." The band, as portrayed in the article, viewed themselves as aiming to foster and perpetuate Shlomo's message of "love, peace and connection to God" and his mission of "'bringing people together, creating a sense of friendship and happiness.'" "Carlebach's ecumenicism" was also "reflected in the makeup of the band. Three of four vocalists are American immigrants, but they sing their original lyrics in Hebrew to a predominantly sabra audience. Three are religious Jews, but the Israeli-born...is secular." It was Yehudah Katz who produced Shlomo's last recording. It was also stated that Katz accompanied Shlomo in 1989 on his 21-day tour of Russia. The opening section of the article related that Reva L'Sheva once played Shlomo's "Song for Peace" in a concert that took place in the old Jewish Quarter in East Berlin on Jerusalem Day.8

Ben-David's article "The Psalm Remains the Same" was concerned with the Book of Psalms as the greatest lyrical inspiration of all time, coinciding with a concert celebrating music set to the Psalms, staged as part of the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations in the Sultan's Pool amphitheater in 1996. "For over 2,500 years, these sacred lyrics have been continuously sung throughout the world in synagogues, churches or concert halls, and have inspired composers as diverse as Gregorian monks, Johann Sebastian Bach, Igor Stravinsky and the 'Singing Rabbi' Shlomo Carlebach."9

In a cover story on the religious revival in Israel it was reported that the renewed interest in Judaism is evident even in the "Ashkenazi yuppiedom." It was recounted, among other things, that Rabbi David Zeller, "ordained by the late mystical rabbi Shlomo Carlebach," had been approached by a group of transcendental meditators from Kfar Saba, who sought to be introduced to "Judaism's 'soulful, meditative side. We started by singing Shlomo's songs and then I related the Rhyziner Rebbe's meditation on the phrase ki kadosh ani...If one really imbibes that simple sentiment deeply, feels oneself to be truly holy, one might behave differently during the course of the day.'"10

Sara M. Averick compiled the different options for celebrating the seder in 1991, provided by the Report's correspondents in various locations. Among the possibilities for taking part in a seder in New York, the seders conducted by "Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on the first two nights" were mentioned. Participants were cautioned to "snack before they attend the Carlebach seders; the singing rabbi is known to expend much energy and time rendering the Haggadah before he gets to the food."11 In a survey of Zev Brenner's radio station in 1994, the reviewer stated that its programs included "a weekly performance by 'singing rabbi' Shlomo Carlebach."12

Shlomo was referred to in several essays and editorials written by Stuart Schoffman. In the first issue of the Report, he conjured up images of possible future stories. One of these, in the realm of Jewish music, might be about "Bob Dylan and Shlomo Carlebach and Johnny Cash" doing "an album together."13

His article "Learning the Music" on soul music was published shortly after the shloshim of Shlomo. He reviewed in concise the evening that marked Shlomo's shloshim in Heikhal Shlomo. He also related that the obituary in the Yediot Aharonot daily revealed that the late Dan Ben-Amotz, "epitome of the anti-Diaspora, pagan Israeli," used to attend Shlomo's performances. Schoffman acknowledged that he himself as a "guitar-twiddling teenager,"14 had idolized Shlomo.

Schoffman recounted the trials and tribulations of the bone-marrow transplant he underwent in Berkeley, which was the only cure for myelofysplasia, a disease of the bone marrow with which he was detected, and the concern on the part of various individuals for his well-being, which was so very meaningful to him. Rabbis e-mailed him requesting his Hebrew name in order to pray on his behalf. "A Chabad rabbi from Contra Costa County dropped by with a hallah, and we spent half an hour singing Shlomo Carlebach tunes together."15

In yet an additional essay he wrote that in his quest for authentic Sephardi culture, he went with his 7-year-old son to observe the Mimounah celebrations at Sacher Park in Jerusalem where, among other things, entertainer Avi Ofek was "crooning ear-piercing Oriental favorites (and a Carlebach tune or two)."16 In an article on the ultra-Orthodox he told of his own personal connections with such persons, noting that a cousin of his was a "legendary Lubavitcher...Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav's fables, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's indispensable Hebrew translation of the Talmud, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's immortal melodies -- all these are so much a part of my life, of the cultural trove of contemporary Jewry, that to think of ultra-Orthodoxy as alien or menacing is both strange and sad."17

Micha Odenheimer quoted from Shlomo's teachings in two Divrei Torah that appeared in "The People and the Book." In a Dvar Torah on the portion of Nitzavim, he referred to an interpretation by Shlomo of the notion of worshiping strange gods, which signified "falling apart, the...flip-side of continuity."

The late great hasidic teacher and songwriter, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, explained it as follows: "The closer you are to a person, the more you believe he cares about everything you do. If you bump into someone whom you are not close to, whom you haven't seen for six months, and he asks you 'What's new?,' you might not have anything to tell him. The closer you are, the more there is to tell. A really close friend even wants to hear what you ate for breakfast. A strange god is one who you don't believe cares about who you are and what you do -- he's a stranger to you. The more you believe God cares about your every movement, the less you are worshiping a strange god."18

He pondered the power of spiritual charisma in "The Charisma of the Good," bringing down in the name of his "teacher Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach" the idea that "the reason Isaac had intended to bless Esau, rather than Jacob...was that Esau was a more exciting, charismatic figure than Jacob and thus better able to reach more people and change the world with the Abrahamic message."19

Shlomo Carlebach ranked eighty-eight in the Report's Readers Poll of the one-hundred Greatest Jews of the Millenium, and was defined as "Hasidic Minstrel."20


Sources: 1. Yossi Klein Halevi, "The Pied Piper of Judaism," The Jerusalem Report, November 17, 1994, p. 45.
2. Yossi Klein Halevi, "Artbeat," The Jerusalem Report, October 5, 1995, p. 59.
3. Miriam Shaviv, "Bringing Back That Loving Feeling," The Jerusalem Report, October 2, 1997, pp. 50-51.
4. Miriam Shaviv, "Battling over the Legacy," The Jerusalem Report, October 2, 1997, p. 51.
5. Netty C. Gross, "Sick of Being Single," The Jerusalem Report, October 30, 1997, pp. 32-35.
6. Lucy Manning, "Pitching Prayer," The Jerusalem Report, November 9, 1998, p. 28.
7. Calev Ben-David, "Music with a Soul," The Jerusalem Report, February 23, 1995, pp. 42-43.
8. Tamar Wisemon, "Songs for Peace," The Jerusalem Report, January 31, 2000, pp. 46-47.
9. Calev Ben-David, "The Psalm Remains the Same," The Jerusalem Report, August 8, 1996, pp. 46-47.
10. Yossi Klein Halevi and Netty C. Gross, "'Something is Stirring,'" The Jerusalem Report, July 11, 1996, pp. 16-17.
11. Winston Pickett, "Different Strokes, The Fifth Question," The Jerusalem Report, March 28, 1991, pp. 32-33, compiled by Sara M. Averick.
12. J. J. Goldberg, "Radio Schmooze," The Jerusalem Report, January 27, 1994, p. 34.
13. Stuart Schoffman, "An Interview with Myself," The Jerusalem Report, September 1, 1990, p. 14.
14. Stuart Schoffman, "Learning the Music," The Jerusalem Report, January 12, 1995, p. 42.
15. Stuart Schoffman, "Rafaela Revisited," The Jerusalem Report, September 19, 1996, p. 62.
16. Stuart Schoffman, "Bulldozers and Barbecue," The Jerusalem Report, May 29, 1997, p. 48.
17. Stuart Schoffman, "The Ankles of King David," The Jerusalem Report, January 4, 1999, p. 50.
18. Micha Odenheimer, "Jewish Intimacy," The Jerusalem Report, September 13, 1999, p. 45.
19. Micha Odenheimer, "The Charisma of the Good," The Jerusalem Report, December 6, 1999, p. 41.
20. "Readers Poll! The 100 Greatest Jews of the Millennium," The Jerusalem Report, January 3, 2000, pp. 52-53, compiled by Karen Yourish.

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